It's expected that all businesses are findable on the web these days. With so many companies offering free and paid DIY website builders, and professional services who can host, build and maintain your website for you, which package is right for you? Read on to learn more.
In this blog I look at:
Search engine and social media
Free website builders
Paid DIY sites
The big DIY con
Professional web builders
Things to remember
A shoestring solution
DIY website builders
Search engine and social media
You can build a web presence for free through platforms such as Google Business, Apple Maps, and Facebook. Depending on your target customers and marketing strategy, a presence in places such as this can boost the success of your company.
Be aware that they are businesses in their own right – they are not there to serve yours – for free, anyway. Most platforms have changed recently to 'demote' posts with outgoing links (eg a link to your own website).
Facebook prioritises people and groups over businesses, as well as frequency and quality of interactions, so it can be quite hard to get your business posts into people's feeds without paying for advertising.
The key to success in these media is to build a full user experience with engaging content, so a customer doesn't need to go outside the platform. But there are a lot of media and that can take a lot of time, and you are ultimately hostage to whatever prioritisation changes the platforms make in future. I will go into more depth on the pros and cons of various platforms in later blogs.
To help you be found on Google, iPhones and smart speaker voice searches, I recommend creating a Google Business and Apple Map presence.
Free website builders
Most businesses prefer to have their own website instead of or as well as social media. This allows them full control over the look and functionality to get their branding and products across more effectively.
There are free website builders such as 123-reg, WordPress, Weebly and Wix.
The website builders will give you a free web domain (address) but it's not personalised eg dipitus.wixsite.com/dipitus. You may also need to have the website builder's adverts on your site.
This can be a good solution for individuals and community groups who just want to share information, but for businesses who need to market themselves and be findable through organic searches, you need to cough up for your own domain name.
For a start, your own name looks more professional, and with prices starting at just 99p for it, it's a no-brainer. You will then need to pay for hosting as well, which starts from about £150 a year. In the grand scheme of your start up expenses, even on a shoestring budget, it's a necessary expense. People are less likely to trust a business that won't even invest £150 a year in presenting themselves in the best way they can.
Secondly, you need to have your own business email address as well – again for professional appearance and creating trust.
Third, I've come across sites and spoken to professionals who say that free hosting can harm your search engine rankings. Servers tend to host a lot of sites so are busy dealing with high volumes of traffic, and so pages load more slowly. The speed at which your page loads is important to search engine rankings.
The free website builders, along with others such as Squarespace, offer paid plans. However, there has been research done into the performance of various builders and Wix, Weebly and Squarespace may not perform as well on Google search rankings due to the complex coding required to make the builder intuitive. Professional web builders don't rate Wix very highly.
WordPress is the longest-established DIY website builder. It's an open source programme, built and improved on by a community of experts, and made available for free. It's well-known and very reputable, and as well as being able to 'buy' it directly, many web hosting sites use it, such as GoDaddy. I know professional web builders who use WP templates as a base for their bespoke work as the standard, repeatable, coding has already been done, and done well.
Another advantage to WordPress is that there are many training courses available at local educational institutions, business support forums, and web building companies that will empower you to build your own.
Website builders can sell you a domain name and host your site, or you can buy it from domain registration sites and import it into another website builder. Prices of the same domain name can vary from site to site so you may want to buy the domain from one company and use another to host your site.
I used 123-reg to buy my domain name for 99p as it was the cheapest I found, and then as a complete novice, I found it easy to set it to be hosted on GoDaddy. I chose GoDaddy as it had the best package deal for hosting, an email address and an SSL certificate at the time.
Dig around and find the best price and option for you. This site offers a good overview of the options.
Do I need an SSL certificate?
The certificate puts the 's' in https. Whilst it is presented as an optional extra, it's actually a must. Have you ever been denied access to a website because your browser says it's insecure or there are certificate problems? It is usually because they don't have an SSL certificate. Google also demotes any websites without one in its rankings.
WordPress has plugins such as Woo Commerce for you to sell your products online.
Shopify is also a big, reliable name in DIY online shops, and again there's lots of training around and online support communities.
The DIY website builder big con
You may have seen those glossy Wix adverts that make the click and drag page builders look like super easy fun. When you do your research for your best-priced hosting, the pictures and sales patter also make it look easy.
You can lose hours just looking at and choosing a template (theme) that you like.
It's not intuitive to use. Do you know what a widget is? A slider? Padding? You will need to spend time reading through guidelines, or learning by trial and error like I did.
You may not get quite what you want. Parts of the template aren't customisable by the novice DIYer. I've attended HTML and CSS courses in order to learn how to build my own theme and manipulate WordPress coding so I can have what I want.
You don't know what you don't know. There is more to building a great website than what is in the 'box' when you open it.
There are many helpful plugins that 'smush' your images and other data to make pages load faster, and that guide you towards optimising your writing and page setup such as Yoast SEO.
There are things plugins can't help you with, like writing content that effectively markets your product or service, and reminding you to SEO your images.
- Everyone I know doing DIY has taken months to get their site out there. A website is a great place to build engaging and helpful content to sell your business, so time spent without one is lost trade.
What happens if it goes wrong? I spent a week finely crafting my website. I went on one day to find my pages were blank. I suspected it was to do with the updates I'd installed recently. I phoned the helpdesk and had to choose which type of support I needed. As I didn't know what was wrong, I didn't know what department I needed to contact so I went round the houses. Frustrating. That 24/7 UK number on GoDaddy? You are patched through to the US. They will go as far as checking the right things are turned on for you, and after that you have to pay for support. Whilst you're on the line, they will try to sell you additional products. Grrr.
GoDaddy likes to phone me once a month to check everything is okay and sell me additional products. Again, grrr.
You may think you're saving time and money in using a DIY website builder, but if your time could be put to better use, like making money, call in the professionals. It doesn't have to cost the earth.
You need solid foundations for your business, so the wisest use of any tight budget is on building those. Great branding and a usable, informative, professional website are what will induce customers to buy your products.
Companies in the Leeds area specialising in sites for small businesses will charge as little as £450. This will get you a 'brochure' website (ie one page, plus a blog), or a 5-page WordPress site set up. More complex sites will cost about £2,000.
You can then go on to manage as much of your site as you can, or pay your company for ongoing hosting and development/maintenance from as little as £40 per month.
As a professional company hosts on its own non-overloaded servers, this will speed up page load times and improve your search rankings.
A professional will also build you a great SEO site (Search Engine Optimised). Coupled with SEO written content from an SEO copywriter you have no need for the expense of a separate SEO specialist.
Things to remember
- When outsourcing, check the company's SLA (service level agreement) – what are the response times to your requests for changes? Sometimes you may need things to be altered in a hurry.
- Is your site backed up?
- How do you make contact with the company – is it a ticketing system so your request is logged and assigned to an available developer, or is it direct contact with a sole trader? If the latter, what happens when they're on holiday?
- Web builders are rarely marketers, user experience experts, or copywriters. Web builders are coders – they will put your content where you want it. There is a reason these other roles exist, and you should consider making use of them.
- Get friends and family to test the functionality and ease of use of your website and give you some feedback.
A shoestring solution
If every penny counts and you need to DIY but don't want the hassle of actually doing it yourself, I can build you a basic service website for £200. Assuming domain name and hosting packages can be purchased for £150, that represents a saving of £100 over the cheapest alternative I've found.
I can also offer adhoc assistance with your DIY project for £25 an hour.
Just drop me a quick line or pick up the phone and we can chat about your needs.